Williams Lake Seniors Activity Centre parking lot coffee house a big hit

Tilly Knowles (left) and Tina Derksen exchange a safe hug during a parking lot coffee house hosted by the Old Age Pensioners Organization and the Seniors Activity Centre on Monday. It was the first gathering since the COVID-19 pandemic closed the centre in March. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Diana Shklanka (left) and her dog, Alpo, 5, enjoy a visit with Kim Newsted and his dog Dee-O-Gee, 11, during the parking lot coffee house held Monday, July 6 at the Seniors Activity Centre. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Dot Unrau, left, and Judy Venzina serve drinks during the parking lot coffee house hosted at the Seniors Activity Centre Monday, July 6. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Carol McGinnis (left) and Norma Mitchell were among those who attended the coffee house Monday, July 6 held in the parking lot of the Williams Lake Seniors Activity Centre. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo)
Rose Pinchbeck, left, and Joanne Wright enjoyed serving cookies during the coffee house at the Seniors Activity Centre Monday, July 6 in Williams Lake. Michael Wynne (back) also played his guitar during the event. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Moe Forseille said it was great to be able to see people in person. He and his wife Penny have called Williams Lake home since 1973. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Craig Innes, left, and Gary Smith enjoy coffee and conversation. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
OAPO president Tina Derksen and Williams Lake Seniors Activity Centre manager Glenda Winger were happy the first coffee house in the centre parking lot was a success. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo)

Seniors in Williams Lake have a place to gather for coffee and conversation for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hampered those opportunities in March.

“It is good to be back,” said volunteer Dot Unrau who was stationed at the drinks table with Judy Vezina when the Seniors Activity Centre and the Old Age Pensioners Organization hosted the first of its summer coffee houses.

Pointing her thumb downwards and making a raspberry sound, she implied their social lives have gone downhill since the coronavirus pandemic.

Vezina nodded and said it was “wonderful to be able to see people” at the event.

Read more: B.C. sees 12 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths

Old Age Pensioners Organization (OAPO) president Tina Derksen said she and Seniors Activity Centre manager Glenda Winger have noticed two very serious issues with seniors during the pandemic.

“One is lack of mobility from being confined and one is depression from lack of social contact so that is what triggered this idea,” Derksen said.

She and the secretary phoned every OAPO branch in B.C. to find out what they were doing and the results were varied.

“We took our initiation from that and thought about what we could do that would be positive.”

Derksen set up a station where people could hug safely using gloves and plastic sleeves, thanks to help from her granddaughters who also created welcome back signs for the entrance to the parking lot from Fourth Avenue.

When asked if the hugging station had been busy, Derksen responded ‘no’ because people are still a little bit nervous.

Some seniors in attendance, however, did hug friends openly within their social bubbles. at the event, she said.

Derksen was going around asking for volunteers because they will need about six people to run each coffee house event.

“We hope to have a few more in July and if everyone is happy with it we will carry on in August.”

While the coffee house opened at 10 a.m. the first senior arrived at about 9:30 a.m., Winger said.

Norma Mitchell was wearing a mask and said before the pandemic she visited the centre two or three times a week.

“My husband and I live on Fox Mountain and it’s been a long haul. We took turns going to town to get food and such, but stayed pretty much at home between the two of us.”

She has family in Williams Lake, but they did not visit very often. “Everybody has extra concerns, such as heart problems, and that kind of stuff and we certainly don’t want anyone to get sick.”

They had only had contact with her sister’s family and said being able to attend the coffee house allowed her to finally see some other familiar faces.

Winger appreciated the weather’s co-operation and said she was happy for the seniors.

“We cannot be inside, but we can at least get together and practice a little bit of social distancing and have some face-to-face conversations, which a lot of us have missed over the few months of not being at the centre.”

The coffee houses will run every Monday and Thursday morning.

Read more: Would you take a COVID-19 vaccine? Poll suggests most Canadians say yes


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